Every Western Bulldogs supporter remembers where they were when the club booked its first Grand Final berth since 1961. The lucky ones were inside GIANTS Stadium. Most were crowded around television screens. But one diehard supporter was in the backstreets of Colombo surrounded by the Australian cricket team.
That was Jess Jonassen. The morning after the star allrounder ripped through the Sri Lankans, taking 3-1 in the space of four overs to be named player of the match, she led her teammates to The Cricket Club Cafe to watch one of the most memorable games of the modern era.
They piled into tuk tuks in pairs and watched the Western Bulldogs’ fairy tale September continue in western Sydney, seven days before Luke Beveridge’s men snapped a 62-year premiership drought against the other side from New South Wales.
Jonassen was the only Dogs supporter in the travelling party, but she wasn’t the only one cheering for the red, white and blue inside a building that was adorned with cricket bats and balls, stumps and gloves. It turned out the owners of the café, James and Gabrielle Whight, were originally from Melbourne and barracked for the Western Bulldogs.
The Australians brushed aside the Sri Lankans by 137 runs the following day at the R. Premadasa Stadium to complete a clean sweep of the series 4-0, before winning the only Twenty 20 game a couple of days later.
The 27-year-old returned to Australia just in time for the Grand Final and spent the day in tears, watching from her home in Brisbane. She will never forget that game – or the one before it, for that matter.
“We had to go and source an Australian owned café to watch the prelim final against the Giants. That took a little bit of effort, but there were quite a few AFL supporters in the team,” Jonassen told westernbulldogs.com.au.
“It was pretty much the whole Australian team. One of the other girls Erin Osborne is a Giants supporter so we were having a go at each other the whole way through. The whole time I was thinking to myself, I hope we win otherwise I’ll never live this down.
“All the Aussie team were there. A few Australians who were holidaying there were watching. It was just in a random back street, but it was an amazing café. We spent hours there.
“As soon as we won that game the realisation hit that we were actually in a Grand Final. I was on cloud nine after the siren with my chest out very happy. It made for a good last few days of the tour.”
Unlike most Western Bulldogs supporters, Jonassen didn’t grow up in the western suburbs of Melbourne, or even in Victoria. She grew up in rugby heartland, smack bang in the middle of Queensland, more than nine hours away from the Gabba.
For a girl growing up in Emerald, football was never an option for Jonassen, but that didn’t stop her loving it when she was a kid. Her dad is from Broken Hill and played locally when she was young, helping her love affair with the Western Bulldogs blossom.
With the explosion of AFLW in the past handful of years, Jonassen has no doubt she would have given our game a decent crack if the opportunity was there. Although things have still turned out pretty well for her.
“Dad was from Broken Hill and one of his old guernseys was a Footscray jumper. We were always watching every sport on TV. We were more of an AFL family than an NRL family which was quite bizarre being from Queensland,” she said.
“He got out that guernsey one day when the Doggies were playing on TV. Tony Liberatore and Brad Johnson were playing, and they won and I was hooked from that moment on; I’ve been following them ever since, from about the age of 10.
“At that stage my dad was still playing locally and we would always go down as a family and kick the footy. I was always out there kicking the ball in the backyard, even by myself kicking it up in the air trying to mark it.
“There was no avenue for me to be able to play back then, but I always loved watching it and a real passion for it from then. It would have been a different story if we had the pathway of AFLW back then, I probably would have tried my hand at that.”
Days before AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan was forced to suspend the 2020 AFL season for more than three months due to the coronavirus pandemic in March, Jonassen snuck in one last appearance for Australia in what was the biggest moment of her career to date.
Jonassen claimed three wickets in the Twenty 20 World Cup Final in front of 86,174 people at the MCG, helping the Australians dismantle India in the decider before dancing on stage alongside Katy Perry in the aftermath.
With the entire world brought to a standstill, Australia’s tour of South Africa wasn’t the only thing that was postponed in Jonassen’s life.
“We just managed to get our World Cup final in and then the whole world shut down. We were actually meant to fly to South Africa before it really hit off. We missed out on that last tour of the season for us, and for a lot of us, it would have been our first time over there for us. It was a bit of a shame,” she said.
“I was supposed to get married in the first week of May, so we’ve had to postpone our wedding until next year. Isolation didn’t start off too well. But you just find new ways to live.
“While it has been a really challenging time for the whole world, one positive from a personal point of view, is I have had the chance to spend a lot more time at home. We are so used to travelling a lot more, so it was nice to feel settled and connect with life at home again.”
The return of the AFL season has been a happy distraction from the unknown of life in 2020.
Just like a return to form proved to be last Friday night for Jonassen’s beloved Bulldogs.